Parshas VaYelech – Hakhel

In this week’s Parsha we learn the Halachos of Hakhel. And since this year is the year of Hakhel, even though according to most opinions we can not fulfill the Mitzvah, let our involvement in the study of the ideas of Hakhel be a Zechus that we should be able to fulfill this Mitzvah once again soon.

The Torah specifically ties Hakhel to the year of Motzaei Shemitah. It is obvious that something takes place in the course of Shemitah that is a perquisite to Hakhel. Let us examine the year of Shemitah and try to discover it.

The Rambam in Hilchos Chagigah (3,6)[1] where he discusses the laws of Hakhel writes the following. “Geirim who do not recognize (the Hebrew language) are obligated to prepare their hearts and to pay attention to hear with awe, fear, rejoicing, and trembling as the day that the Torah was given at Har Sinai. Even great Talmidei Chochomim that know the entire Torah are obligated to listen with tremendous concentration. Even one who is unable to hear (because of the distance from the king) must concentrate on the reading, because the Torah obligates it in order to strengthen the true religion; and he must see himself as if he was now being commanded and hearing it from Hashem, for the king is the agent to articulate the words of HaShem.” There are numerous issues raised in this Rambam. We will try to deal with a few of them.

The most obvious idea in the Rambam is that the Hakhel is a reenactment of the Giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. This is clear in what he says, “Hear with awe, fear, rejoicing, and trembling as the day that the Torah was given at Har Sinai”. In addition it is clear in the last part of the Rambam, “he must see himself as if he was now being commanded and hearing it from Hashem”. What is unique about the year of Shemitah that brings about the ability to reenact the Giving of the Torah at Har Sinai?

The giving of the Torah was preceded by the Jewish People saying Naaseh VaNishma. The chronology of events was that on Rosh Chodesh Sivan the Jews arrived at Har Sinai. In the intervening days Moshe went up and down from Har Sinai a number of times. On the fourth day of Sivan the events in Shemot Perek 24 took place. Moshe made a Mizbeach and the Jews said Naaseh VeNishma. This statement of the Jewish People aroused a great furor in the Heavens[2]. Hashem’s response was, “Who revealed this secret that the angels utilize, to my children?” This is considered the pinnacle of the acceptance of the Torah. It represents an understanding that the Torah is ultimately beyond human comprehension. As much as we stretch ourselves to comprehend the Torah it is G-d’s wisdom and beyond our understanding. This is the point of difference between us and the other nations. When all the other nations were asked if they would accept the Torah, their response was a rational one, “What does it say?” Only the Jewish people reached the level of complete acceptance without prior conditions.

This idea is emphasized in the Midrash at the beginning of Vayikra Rabbah[3]. The Midrash begins with the verse, “Valiant ones those who do His will, to listen to the sound of His will”. A discerning ear hears in this verse the echo of “We will do and we will hear”. Therefore the Midrash says that this verse is referring to the Jews at the time of Matan Torah. This Midrash first begins with another idea. “Said Rav Yitzchok this verse is referring to those who guard the Shemitah. The usual custom is that a person performs a commandment for a day, a week, a month. Can a person keep up for an entire year. These people see their fields lie fallow and are obligated to continue to pay taxes, and are still quiet. Is there a greater strength than that?” We see from this Midrash a correlation between the level of the Jews at the Matan Torah, and the level of the Jews who keep an entire year of Shemitah. Therefore at the end of a year of Shemitah we are ready and able to accept the Torah anew.

The Sefas Emes (Vayelech 5642[4]) presents a different idea. He says, “The year of Shemitah brings a new unity to the Jewish people.” This idea needs clarification.

There is a puzzling sentence in the Hagadah. In Dayeinu we say “If we were brought in front of Har Sinai but had not received the Torah that would have been sufficient.” What does this mean? What would the arrival at Har Sinai alone accomplish? It is well known that the Jews reached a special level of unity with their arrival at Har Sinai. Rashi says, “They camped as one man with one heart”. This is the answer. That special level alone is a reason to give thanks to Hashem. But this teaches us that every time there is a level of Matan Torah there is a new level of unity. After the sin of the Eigel there was a need for a new VaYakhel, which is the beginning of Parshas VaYakhel. Purim which is the time of reacceptance of the Torah was preceded by Nikhalu VaOmod, a unification of the Jewish people. Therefore the unity that the Jews reached in Shemitah must also through its unity of Klal Yisroel bring about a renewed Matan Torah.

The Sefat Emet does not clarify which aspect of Shemitah brings this unification.

There are two possibilities. One is a general idea. The Pasuk says[5], “Desire creates separateness”. People who are involved in the fulfillment of their own desires cannot be unified. Only one who can overcome his personal desires can create a unified society. The year of Shemitah is a year for overcoming desires. One does not till his fields, and debts are forgiven. This year creates a unity in the Jewish people, and this creates the proper climate for Matan Torah.

The other is more specific to Shemitah. Shemitah is called Shabbat. Shabat is called in the Zohar “Raza DeEchad”, the secret of unity. Similarly Shemitah may be defined in the same way, since it is also a Shabbat. Therefore Shemitah is the proper preparation for Matan Torah.

This then helps to answer a famous question. The Parsha of Shemita begins with the Pasuk[6], “And G-d spoke to Moshe from Har Sinai.…you should have a Shemita”. Rashi asks, “what is the connection between Har Sinai and Shemita?”According to our previous ideas, the connection is obvious. Every Shemita we renew our bond with Har Sinai, and are able to accept the Torah anew.

A closer examination of the Rambam reveals a fascinating differentiation between the Ger and everyone else. The Ger is expected to feel as if “as the day that the Torah was given at Har Sinai”. Everyone else is only supposed to “see himself as if he was now being commanded and hearing it from Hashem”. Where does this difference stem from?

It is a Halachic fact that all Jews are considered as if they stood on Har Sinai. This is evident in the Halacha[7] that if one swears to keep a Mitzvah the Shevuah does not take effect because the prior Shevuah taken at Har Sinai preempts it. Thus we see that all Jews are actually considered as having stood at Har Sinai and sworn to keep the Torah. In this aspect we do not find any difference between Jews by birth or Jews by choice. However, Rav Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin makes the following observation[8].

The Gemarra in Berachot discusses the famous events concerning Rav Akiva’s martyrdom. As the Romans were torturing him to death, Rav Akiva’s students asked him how he was able to withstand the pain. He responded, “All of my life I was disturbed by the Pasuk ‘with all your Nefesh’, even if G-d takes your life. I said when would an opportunity to fulfill this pasuk come to me and I would fulfill it”. Rav Tzadok says that this was a consequence of his being a descendent of Geirim. (The Gemarra tells us that Rav Akiva was a descendent of Sisra[9]. Why Rav Akiva, the primary source of Torah SheBeal Peh needed to be a “Ben Gerim” is a different issue.) “It was vital that his body which was an element of his (non Jewish) antecedents to be martyred.” This means that even though the soul of a Ger stood at Har Sinai, the body still requires a further purification, to be as if it also stood at Har Sinai.

Therefore, the Rambam differentiates between the type of Hakhel of a Ger and that of a born Jew. A Jew whose parents physically stood at Har Sinai, it is sufficient to “see himself as if he was now being commanded”. However, a Ger must actually be there, as the Rambam says, “prepare their hearts and to pay attention to hear with awe, fear, rejoicing, and trembling as the day that the Torah was given at Har Sinai”

There is another point in the Rambam. The Rambam describes the king as the agent (Shaliach) of Hashem. Where does this idea come from? The Rambam writes in Sefer HaMitzvot (Aseh 173[10]) that the function of the king is to join together all of the Jewish people. Based on what we had said previously, we can understand why there is need for the king to perform this act of unifying the people. It is a preparation for a renewal of Matan Torah, and therefore requires Achdus.

The archetypical king of the Jews was Shlomo. He is the one who fulfilled all the obligations of the king, including building the Bait HaMikdash. He wrote the Sefer of Kohelet, which can also be translated as the “Book of Community”. The Sfas Emes says that Shlomo was aware there would be a day when the Jewish people would be unable to fulfill Hakhel in the Bais HaMikdosh. But they would still have a Sefer which would bring them to that same goal of Hakel, Fear of Hashem. As the Rambam writes, “hear with awe, fear, rejoicing, and trembling”; and as Kohelet ends “The end of the matter, Fear G-d and keep his Mitzvot, for that is the entire person”. And this was the goal of Matan Torah, “In order that His fear should be upon you all of the days”. So we read Kohelet on Sukkos to remind us of the goal of Hakhel even if we cannot fulfill it actually.

[1] (ו) וגרים שאינן מכירין חייבין להכין לבם ולהקשיב אזנם לשמוע באימה ויראה וגילה ברעדה כיום שניתנה בו בסיני אפילו חכמים גדולים שיודעים כל התורה כולה חייבין לשמוע בכוונה גדולה יתרה ומי שאינו יכול לשמוע מכוין לבו לקריאה זו שלא קבעה הכתוב אלא לחזק דת האמת ויראה עצמו כאילו עתה נצטוה בה ומפי הגבורה שומעה שהמלך שליח הוא להשמיע דברי האל:

[2] שבת דף פח/א – אמר רבי אלעזר בשעה שהקדימו ישראל נעשה לנשמע יצתה בת קול ואמרה להן מי גילה לבני רז זה שמלאכי השרת משתמשין בו דכתיב ברכו ה’ מלאכיו גבורי כח עושי דברו לשמוע בקול דברו ברישא עשי והדר לשמע

[3] מדרש רבה ויקרא פרשה א פסקה א – גבורי כח עושי דברו במה הכתוב מדבר א”ר יצחק בשומרי שביעית הכתוב מדבר בנוהג שבעולם אדם עושה מצוה ליום א’ לשבת אחת לחודש א’ שמא לשאר ימות השנה ודין חמי חקליה ביירה כרמיה ביירה ויהבי ארנונא ושתיק יש לך גבור גדול מזה וא”ת אינו מדבר בשומרי שביעית נאמר כאן עושי דברו ונאמר להלן (דברים טו) וזה דבר השמיטה מה דבר שנאמר להלן בשומרי שביעית הכתוב מדבר אף דבר האמור כאן בשומרי שביעית הכתוב מדבר עושי דברו רבי הונא בשם ר’ אחא אמר בישראל שעמדו לפני הר סיני הכתוב מדבר שהקדימו עשייה לשמיעה ואמרו (שמות כד) כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע לשמוע בקול דברו

[4] שפת אמת ספר דברים – פרשת וילך – שנת [תרמ”ב] – בפרשת הקהל. ישמעו וילמדו כו’ נראה שע”י מצות השמיטה זכו אח”כ לבחי’ התכללות. והוא הלשון שכ’ בקבלת התורה הקהל לי א”ה ואשמיעם את דברי. ונראה שזה הי’ שכר על שמירת שביעית שדרשו חז”ל גבורי כח בשומרי שביעית הכ’ מדבר. ומסיים לשמוע בקול דברו שזכו לשמוע ד’ ה’ אח”כ במצות הקהל שהי’ מתגלה להם מחדש אור התורה כפי מה שהי’ צריך להם אז כי מציון תצא תורה. כי בוודאי הי’ סיוע משמים להמלך כי מצד הטבע אין באפשרות להשמיע באזני כל קהל ישראל. וכ”כ הרמב”ם בה’ חגיגה שהמלך שליח הוא וצריכין לעמוד בהקהל כמו בהר סיני באימה ביראה ע”ש. וזה ענין שמיטין אצל הר סיני. ויתכן לומר כי שלמה המלך ע”ה חיבר ס’ קהלת ע”ש מצות הקהל שהיא בסוכות. וכשראה שיתבטל בהמ”ק ומצות הקהל שנתחדש אז הארת התורה בכל שמיטה. הניח זה הכח בספר קהלת שחיבר על ימי הסוכות כנ”ל:

[5] משלי פרק יח – (א) לְתַאֲוָה יְבַקֵּשׁ נִפְרָד בְּכָל תּוּשִׁיָּה יִתְגַּלָּע:

[6] ויקרא פרק כה – (א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְדֹוָד אֶל משֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר:

רש”י על ויקרא פרק כה פסוק א – (א) בהר סיני – מה ענין שמיטה אצל הר סיני והלא כל המצות נאמרו מסיני

[7] מסכת נדרים דף ח/א – מנין שנשבעין לקיים את המצוה שנאמר נשבעתי ואקיימה לשמור משפטי צדקך והלא מושבע ועומד מהר סיני

[8] ספר פוקד עקרים – אות ו – ולפי שהיה בן גרים שגרם לזה קללת הגר אשר בקרבך יעלה עליך מעלה מעלה הוכרח גופו שהוא חלק אבותיו ליהרג וכך עלה במחשבה לפניו יתברך שיהיה השורש דתורה שבעל פה מתגלה בעולם בגוף כזה שצריך לשלימות הזדככותו ליהרג על קידוש השם דמסתמא הכל במשפט וכמו שאמרו כי הגוף של בן גרים שהגיע למעלה עליונה כמוהו שאמר עליו משה רבינו ע”ה יש לך אדם כזה ואתה נותן תורה על ידי (מנחות כ”ט ע”ב) לא היה אפשר שיזדכך להיות גם הוא קדוש בקדושה עליונה כל כך להיות מוכן למעלה ומדריגה זו אלא על ידי שנהרג על קידוש ה’:

[9] רבי ניסים גאון על ברכות דף כז/ב – איתה בסנהדרין בפרק כל ישראל יש להן חלק (דף צו) מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים ומאן אינון ר’ עקיבא ואיתה נמי בפ’ הניזקין דמסכת גיטין (דף נז):

[10] ספר המצות להרמב”ם – מצות עשה – מצוה קעג מצוה קעג – היא שצונו למנות עלינו מלך מישראל יקבץ כל אומתנו וינהיגנו

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